Grand Re-Re-Re-Opening

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I’ve been musing all week about potential blog post topics. I want to post often and I want those posts to be interesting but I had been having trouble coming up topics. I thought about writing on some of the new goals I’ve set for myself and what I’m working towards but by themselves, they would barely amount to a tweet.

However, I’ve been trying to do quite a lot lately and it feels like a new beginning. While I’m the guy that enjoys re-committing every January 1 to my resolutions, I’ve learned that one doesn’t need to wait until then to work on something new. There is never a bad time for a start, right?

So what am I working on?

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Well firstly, this blog. I’ve fallen out of writing anything but business email and short notes and I wanted to stretch my personal prose muscles, thus, this blog. I’ve blogged before but aside from my first blog, which lasted a couple of years, I couldn’t really get back into it despite trying a few times on different platforms.

Secondly, reading for pleasure. After law school, and aside from reading the rest of the Game of Thrones series (excellent and well worth your time if you enjoy reading fantasy books at all) and a few New York magazines, I haven’t really read for pleasure. One of my New Years Resolutions was to read 4 books. That’s not a lot, I know. But I wanted to read for pleasure and not just to beat some arbitrary goal. Thus far, I’ve crushed David Wong’s John Dies at the End (weird, excellent, and a quick read), abandoned Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, and used my 3 month free trial for Audible (since I’m a Prime member) to listen to Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. I’m currently listening to my favorite author, David Foster Wallace’s, Broom of the System as a borrowed audiobook from the NY Library and just started (literally on page 8) City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (which is cheaper as a paperback than on Kindle, which I don’t understand). City on Fire already reads as fluidly as Infinite Jest (by David Foster Wallace) so I’m excited for the rest of the book but trying to keep expectations at a reasonable level; something extraordinarily difficult given the 5 pages of quoted praise as the intro to the book.

Thirdly, I’m working on making more money. This drive has taken several forms. At the forefront, I’m making sure to stay on top of everything at the office since I enjoy the work. Maritime law is probably as much fun as the law can be and I feel lucky to work where I do. I’m also working getting my digital consulting side business up and running. It’s been a bit of a chore finding the time and drive after a long day or week of work.

Running

I’ve also been working on getting healthier. I’ve been counting calories with the Lose It! app on my phone and trying to run more often. I tried the running in the morning thing but despite my best effort, my 6:45am-self prefers sleep over exercise. I’ve also just started using Headspace, a meditation app. I definitely felt more relaxed after just a few minutes so I might stick with it. A free app definitely beats paying for yoga classes.

I think that’s enough to start.

How to Create Your Personal Cloud for Streaming Your DVD Collection

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I had been kicking around the idea of setting up my own personal cloud for about a year before actually investigating how to do it. This was primarily because I didn’t really think I needed one and partially because I was to busy to look into it. Well I finally did and laid out how I did so below. Hopefully, you find it useful if you’re trying to do the same thing.

Why?
I had wanted a personal cloud as a way to watch my hundreds of DVDs I spent my high school and college years collecting. Years ago I had discarded their boxes and stored them in a Case Logic binder but I had never actually taken that binder down to my parent’s place for the holidays and the oft “I have definitely have that movie, but it’s at my place” was getting old. Of course I had a Blockbuster membership back then (rest in peace Blockbuster), but as many Millenials will remember, the overdue charges were astronomically ridiculous. It was far cheaper to go to Wal-Mart, Target…etc and buy the movie for $5 than rent it for $3 and be charged $10 for a late fee after inevitably returning it late because your friend or roommate “had” to borrow it.

Redbox didn’t really start springing up around my area, at least as far as I’m aware, until 2010/2011 and by then, after a year of freeloading off my friend Ryan’s Netflix account, I finally got my own in the summer of 2011. Which, unsurprisingly, is when my DVD collection basically stopped getting bigger, with the exception of the Harry Potter movies and some vampire/zombie combo packs.

As I was looking into setting up a personal cloud, I wanted one that would let me access my files anywhere, would let me play my ripped DVDs on my Amazon Firestick, had a large storage capacity for all the DVDs I intended to rip, had mirrored drives so that if one failed (as they do) I wouldn’t lose all those files, and was as cost efficient as possible.

[Yeah, yeah, yeah…. I get it. You have a bunch of DVDs lying around. How do I actually do this?]

How? 
Here is what you’ll need:

  • A NAS (network attached storage) device – $450
  • Plex (streaming software) – $0
  • Streaming device (Firestick/ Google Chromecast/ Apple TV/ Roku…etc) – $30 to $200
  • DVD drive – $33
  • DVD ripping software – $25
  • Your DVDs – Priceless
  • Patience. A lot of patience

NAS: A networked attached storage device is, in uncomplicated parlance, is a hard drive that can act as a server; essentially a drive where you can store data and access online. I did a fair amount of research and the NAS I thought was best, was the Western Digital 8TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra. The reasoning behind this is that it had sufficient storage (8 terabytes), mirrored drives (two 4TB drives – NOTE: this means you only actually get 4TB of storage capacity despite buying an 8TB drive), it had a good processor for streaming and while not as cheap as I would have liked, I was willing to overlook that because of the quality. 

Plex: Plex is the software whereby you can stream your DVDs from your NAS to your streaming device. You will want to sign up for an account.

Streaming Device: I have both an Amazon Firestick and a Google Chromecast and they’re both great. I hear good things about the Apple TV and Roku. There are plenty of comparison websites out there but overall, I like the Firestick since I feel it is less glitchy and is more of an entertainment device than the Chromecast. The Firestick also has a Plex app which you can download and makes accessing your movies/tv shows a lot easier. Chromecast lets you throw your media onto your TV via the Plex app on your phone/tablet but the browsing is done on the mobile device, not the TV.

DVD Drive: I have a mid-2009 Macbook Pro which means it still has a CD/DVD drive but knowing I was going to burn 100+ DVDs, I didn’t want to burn out my internal drive. As a precaution, I bought what seemed like a decent but cheap DVD drive. It is a GlowGeek DVD drive, which I’ve never heard of but to date, has burned 160+ movies and at least 4 different TV series and is still going strong. It connects via USB 3.0 which I thought was important for ripping speed. I don’t actually know if it is, but given the amount of data it has to transfer, I figured better safe than sorry. Each DVD takes about the length of the playing time to rip, which I understand to be pretty good.

DVD Ripping Software: I used to have Handbrake and VLC to rip DVDs before but since upgrading to Mac OS X El Capitan, they haven’t worked. I tried a few free programs but ultimately didn’t want the hassle of trying to configure everything perfectly every time given the number of DVDs I would be ripping. To that end, I used my free trial and afterward bought the license for MacDVDRipper Pro. It has worked like a charm and is worth way more than the current $25 price tag. I’m sure there are plenty of good Windows options out there but I don’t have any good recommendations. Sorry.

Your DVDs: Check out the Plex guide to naming your DVDs before you start ripping TV shows. The movies are pretty easy to rename if necessary but the TV shows can be a pain in the ass.

Patience: It takes a while to rip all those DVDs but once you get the set-up right, it becomes pretty easy.

Steps:

  1. Order what you need (NAS, DVD drive, streaming device, DVD ripping software)
  2. Set up your Plex account
  3. Set up your NAS when it arrives
  4. Attach the DVD drive & insert the DVD
  5. Close the automatic DVD player and open up the DVD ripping software
  6. Rip the DVD and ensure it is named appropriately based on the Plex naming guide
  7. Double-check the DVD ripped all the way through with sound

1. Ordering: This is probably the most painful part. As a young professional in New York, all expenses are carefully monitored but it had to be done.

2. Plex:Set up the Plex account online and download the necesasry apps for your mobile devices. You’ll need them later.

3. Setup NAS: This is the hardest part. Essentially, you just have to set it up by the directions included. I do suggest buying a CAT 6 cable to connect the NAS to your WIFI router instead of using the included CAT 4 or CAT 5 cable. I was told it transfers information faster by a tech guy I know. Make sure set up the NAS options and add the Plex app. Here is the best install guide I found that includes pictures.  If you’re asked to manually upgrade, you have to download the appropriate file from the Plex website (they recommend the My Clud Mirror gen 2 package) and add that as an app.

You’ll also have to set up your My Cloud account access which should be part of the process. The online portal for My Cloud is where you’ll upload the movies once they are ripped.

4. Setup DVD Drive: This is very easy and only requires attaching the USB cable.

5. Start Ripping: You have to close the automatic DVD player and then start the ripping program. If you don’t, it can take longer and confuse computer sometimes. I prefer the .m4v file type under the ripping options.

6. Proper Title: Make sure to properly name the move per the Plex guidelines.

7. Confirmation: Confirm the movie is completely ripped and then upload it through the MyCloud portal and you should be good to go!

*The picture for this post was unceremoniously taken from the Skipping Girl Vinegar youtube video